Anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses among Americans aged 18 and older. Yet fewer than 37 percent of sufferers seek treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Sometimes help isn’t available, and sometimes people don’t want treatment because they do not want to take medication, or they think psychotherapy or “talk therapy” will be complicated or lengthy. Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, an assistant professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University-Bloomington, says it doesn’t always have to be that way.
“While many individuals need more intensive treatments, many can experience benefits from what we call ‘low-intensity’ treatments, like brief talk therapies or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) self-help offered via books or the internet,” he said.
The SADCat Lab website
A recipient of the Global Mental Health Fellowship in 2020, Lorenzo-Luaces’s SADCAT Lab (Study of Affective Disorders’ Classification and Treatment) worked with the World Health Organization, recruiting individuals from all over the United States for a study of how feasible and effective it is to use books to treat depression and anxiety. Using social media, his team recruited 198 people interested in self-directed treatment and gave them access to a book with coping skills. The study included videoconferencing sessions that guided participants in applying the book’s suggestions to their daily lives. Researchers then tracked participants’ mental health weekly by sending them surveys on IU’s REDCap, a secure, web-based application for building and managing surveys and databases, and for storing the sensitive data from their work.
We are using technology to break some of the barriers in how our society can treat depression and anxiety.
Overall, researchers found that people in the study experienced significant improvements in depression, anxiety, well-being, and emotion regulation. However, the study suffered a high dropout rate early on, when the book was offered without online assistance, so the researchers planned a separate study, with funding by the IU Center for Rural Engagement, offering participants immediate access to online intervention to help with retention.
The aim of this second study is to try to identify who could benefit most from this type of treatment. The researchers are also working on ways to attract more men and racial-ethnic minorities to the study, as 85 percent of participants in the last study were female, and 78 percent were Non-Hispanic White.
The SADCAT Lab’s study with the IU Center for Rural Engagement is targeting individuals throughout Indiana, usually in communities that don’t have the best access to mental health professionals. Participants complete a 30-minute, self-guided intervention that provides a “crash course” on therapy techniques before starting a self-help book. They are then randomly selected to receive a second intervention, the book piloted by the team, either without further support or with support via telehealth.
“In general, a lot of people benefit from the treatments if they try them. The challenge is getting people to start the treatment,” Lorenzo-Luaces said. “One really big challenge in our society is that a lot of people have problems with their mental health, but there is not a lot of help available. When people finally look for help, they meet all these barriers like having to wait for treatment, or providers being booked up. We are using technology to break some of the barriers in how our society can treat depression and anxiety.”
Research Technologies, a division of University Information Technologies Services at IU, provides cyberinfrastructure and educational support for REDCap. Visit the REDCap page in IT Training to enroll in a course so you can start using REDCap for your research. Or learn more about REDCap by visiting https://go.iu.edu/redcap.